My life as a Franciscan Brother began at St. Francis Novitiate in Oyster Bay in 1963, and continued to be nurtured at the Scholasticate in Brooklyn as I studied at St. Francis College until being assigned to St. Francis Prep, Brooklyn, in 1968. During these years, the documents of Vatican II were published and studies as all religious began the process of renewing their own documents to come into compliance with the Council. One consequence was the collaboration among communities which shared the same founding charism, for us the Franciscan charism. This collaboration became part of my ongoing formation for three decades. One theme that strikes me as I write this reflection came from the U.S. Franciscan Federation: “Roots and Wings.”
My Christian roots were planted by my family as I was raised in the Catholic community of western MA, and my wings sprouted as they supported my commitment to the life of the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn. Similarly, the Brothers encouraged continued and on-going formation which, for me, led to the grass-roots communities developing in the neighborhood parishes of Brooklyn.
The first was St. Francis Xavier Parish and School, for the dynamic period of 1972-1977, which included joining a new friary at St. Joseph’s on Pacific St., the first parish our Brothers went to teach the “grades” back in 1859. In Spring 1977, I was privileged to join a “Franciscan Studies” program in Chicago, from which emerged the “Haversack” project and friendships I continue to share today. Upon my return to Pacific St., I joined the Office of Prison Ministries in Catholic Charities, a new kind of “rootedness” that was transformative and enduring. I returned to Crown Heights at neighboring St. Teresa’s Parish friary from 1983-1989. The “missing” years in this history included three assignments to pre-novitiate, or candidacy friaries, between 1970 and 2007.
My wings were stretched in the 1980s and 90s with leadership roles and opportunities in our Congregation, the U.S. Franciscan Federation, and the International Franciscan Conference. Exciting collaborations helped bring about the Franciscan Office at the U.N., the newly revised Rule for our global Third Order Regular Institutes, and the approval of our own, now pontifical Congregation’s revised Constitutions. What I had neglected during this period was graduate school; this was remedied by two years at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, earning an MA in Social and Public Policy with a concentration in Conflict Resolution.
I returned to St. Francis Monastery on Remsen St., Brooklyn (for the third time) and accepted a position at my alma mater, St. Francis College, to create and direct and Office of Campus Ministry. That was a joyous experience for 16 years; I loved the college community and was edified and encouraged by the students from 1997-2013, when it became time for me to retire with my cane! First, I enjoyed a 3-month hermitage retreat at Mt. Alvernia in Centerport, a unique opportunity, as Winter transformed to Spring, to process all the experiences and graces of the last half century. I then joined the “retirement” community at OLA Friary back to “my” Brooklyn roots, forever grateful to my dearly departed Brother-friend-mentors, and for the wings so essential to St. Francis’ journey, and to our own, as we try to follow him joyfully and faithfully. Pace e Bene!